The Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) has given the Ministry of Education an ultimatum to meet on a list of contentious “expectations” for administering the new online school term that started yesterday.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY after dispatching a letter this morning to the Acting Chief Education Officer Joy Adamson, president of the BSTU Mary Redman said her union wants that meeting held by the end of this week.
Redman has taken umbrage with the “tone and content” of the correspondence sent to teachers by Adamson on Sunday outlining 46 sets of expectations for teachers and parents to fulfill during the administration of the virtual school which was introduced by Government since it banned mass gatherings to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The letter from Adamson – a copy of which has been obtained by Barbados TODAY – is dated May 3, 2020 and addressed to all teachers of public nursery and primary schools.
Among the 29 sets of expectations listed by the senior ministry official, the union is particularly worried about five of them which Redman described in her letter as a “betrayal” considering what was agreed to during an April 17 consultation.
“The directive that teachers should have laptops bears no relation to the fact that many of them still do not and have yet to be provided with any. We discussed and you agreed, as did BAPPSS [the association representing public secondary school principals], that teaching would consist of both synchronous and asynchronous classes, and that neither type, for a variety of pertinent and sensitive reasons, should be mandated,” the BSTU leader said in her correspondence.
“Yet there is the stated directive that there must be at least three hours of synchronous teaching daily! It begs the questions whether the writer of the letter has ever prepared for, or executed three hours of synchronous teaching, at any level, but most especially at the level of infants and juniors?” Redman continued.
She told the Chief Education Officer that it was even more worrisome as extended screen time is known to affect the health and well-being of both students and teachers.
The union boss expressed disappointment over other expectations which she noted compounded the impact of long hours spent in front of a computer screen.
“There is the expectation that, having to prepare for three hours of synchronous teaching every day and the extensive time frames required for this, teachers are still to make themselves available for any students who may be in need of extra assistance and be available as well for parents who are to contact them between 9 and 3 p.m..” Redman noted in her letter to the senior ministry official.
“One is left to ponder as to what time teachers are left to prepare their daily classes, assist their own school-age children with their work, care for elderly parents and shop or do other business on their stipulated days and times? The chief’s demands therefore exceed the requirements of a normal workday for teachers,” the BSTU president wrote.
She also has asked why is there a need for electronic scheme books which was listed by Adamson, when the system is set up with the ‘monitoring supervision’ of the heads of department and other administrative staff as potential participants in teachers’ classes? “What is the rationale behind this added, time-consuming workload and what objective and pedagogical purpose does it serve in a situation of consolidation and revision?” Redman asked.
She also queried the need for continuous assessment towards generating an end of term report when it is known that there will be no promotion examinations.
Redman pointed out that one of the practical reasons the BSTU recommended the automatic promotion of students, was the fact that it was identified that over 4,000 students, not including the many teachers, did not possess the necessary devices to productively engage in online teaching and learning.
“Do you envisage that this need will be met in good time before the end of term so no students will be disadvantaged by not being exposed to the modality? In the absence of this, what assessment will they have and what type of report at the end term?” she asked the Chief Education Officer.
Redman referred to the April 17 meeting with the ministry which she said she left with the understanding that there was agreement on most of the union’s proposals regarding the online engagement with students.
“We had agreed at that meeting that teaching would both be synchronous and asynchronous. In other words face-to-face, online and then a mixture of the two and allowing teachers to set assignments and let children work with them. The correspondence from the chief indicates that teachers now had to engage in synchronous, face-to-face only for at least three hours every day. That is something that is untenable,” Redman told Barbados TODAY this afternoon.
She suggested it would be a burden on teachers who would now be forced to take three times the length of the actual class in order to prepare for it. She observed that the online teaching of schools was untried and untested at this level and urged the ministry to exercise some flexibility and patience.
The Chief Education Officer did acknowledge in her three-page letter that
“we are manoeuvring in unchartered waters. There was no initial rule book or manual to follow. We all have had to adapt quickly to a “new normal”.
She also said that during the shut-down the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training has been working from home and will continue to do so until May 18, 2020.
She also told teachers if they had specific concerns about the new online environment, to email [email protected]
“During this third term you are not expected to teach any new concepts to your students. You are encouraged to consolidate topics which were introduced previously. Information will also be broadcast via radio station 91.3 FM and CBC TV (times to be announced later) especially for those students who do not yet have devices,” Adamson wrote.
“End of term reports will still need to be completed for all students, so you are required to conduct continuous assessments of students throughout the term.
School will continue in this online environment for this term. Additional information on examinations and on the delivery of devices will be shared shortly,” the Chief Education Officer concluded.
Yesterday, the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) also protested the new directive from the senior official and called for more time to allow teachers to work through the online approach to teaching.